Are you currently making the most of the NFC chip in your Android phone? The chances are that for most of us the answer is no and I was sat firmly in that camp, at least I was up until about a week ago. NFC adoption has been slow paced since Google and Samsung brought the technology to the masses by way of the Nexus S. A large part of the problem was the original lack of functions available to utilise the technology and as someone who bought the Nexus S personally I certainly cannot remember really using NFC in the year I had the phone. Cue the launch of the Galaxy Nexus over Christmas 2011 and the introduction of Android Beam, finally a genuinely useful application that utilises NFC technology. As useful as Android Beam is, and I have used it occasionally, there is still a slight feeling that it’s just as gimmicky as it is productive.
I decided the time had come to really see quite how useful the technology could be so I ordered some NFC tags and downloaded a NFC task application to program and read them. My products of choice were a batch of NFC/RFID tags from TagsForDroid.com and NFC Task Launcher from Tagstand. I’ve broken the review down into two clear sections on my findings having used both products over the past week.
I opted to buy my tags from TagsForDroid for a couple of reasons. First of all they came highly recommended from the guys over at XDA Developers and those guys rarely get it wrong. Second of all, they’ve got the Android logo on the front, show me a true Android geek who could resist that! I ordered a batch of 20 Tags for $25.99, shipping is free within the US however I had to pay a few dollars extra for international shipping.
I immediately have to give the website some extra credit for customer service. At the time of ordering they had run out of the Android logo tags, I received an e-mail offering the plain white tags immediately (yeah right!) or I could wait for the next batch of Android branded tags to arrive. They were very transparent and accurate regarding when they would be expected in and they threw in a few extra tags for free due to the inconvenience, nice touch! The tags took around 2 weeks to arrive due to the international shipping, not an usual amount of time to get through UK customs etc.
The tags are very thin, glossy, sturdy and around the size of a UK 10 pence piece or an American quarter. They come with a sticky adhesive backing in order to firmly attach the tags to your chosen areas. I’ve secured mine comfortably and discretely to areas such as the surface of my laptop, the inside of my front door, the dashboard of my car and the surface of my desk at work. The spec list of the tags reads as follows :
- 1K MIFARE compatible NFC Tags
- 13.56 MHz
- rewritable, lockable
- range < 0.2m (~8″)
- 3M adhesive backing
- 30mm disc (about the size of a quarter)
NFC Task Launcher
Once again, there were a few factors I took into account before downloading NFC Task Launcher from the Play Store. The application has up to 5000 downloads with an average 4.7 rating, which is impressive. It’s also very reasonably priced at only £1.21 (approx $1.92) and last but not least, it has an extensive list of features. It is worth noting that there is a free version of the app in the market with limited functionality, it enables your phone to read a programmed tag but does not include any of the writing facilities.
My immediate impression on launching the app is that the UI is very clean and obvious. You won’t find yourself lost navigating around menus unsure of where to go. There are two different types of tags you can create; tasks and standard tags. The standard tags aren’t unlike the data you can transmit using Android Beam, static data such as a business card, a website, text etc. While this is useful, it’s the tasks that really allow you to get creative.
A task allows you to assign a series of instructions to the tag which your phone will execute when it reads it. There are numerous options at your disposal including launching specific applications, toggling various settings, setting screen brightness and evening updating your social networks. The only real limit here is your imagination! Creating the different profiles is a very simple process and writing it to the tag literally takes a second, it really couldn’t be simpler. Another nice touch is a menu that takes you to a list recommended NFC tag sellers should you be unsure of where you can purchase some. TagsForDroid is represented of course.
I’m sure you all have your own ideas on how you might program your tags however here is a sample of a few that I currently have in use at the moment :
- Laptop tag – Only one function. Toggles my phone wireless hotspot on or off. Perfect for getting my laptop online when I’m on the go. Simple but effective
- Car dashboard tag – Enables bluetooth, cranks volume up to max and launches Google Navigation.
- Front door tag – Enables wifi, sets volume to middle, disables bluetooth and checks me into home on Google+ check-in.
- Work desk tag – Disables wifi, disables bluetooth, sets phone to vibrate mode.